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When you are in the pub, ordering a drink from a bartender, which of the following is the correct way to say it?

  1. When both of you're stand by the bar ordering a drink, and a bartender asks to pay now or open a tab.
  2. When both of you're stand at the bar ordering a drink, and a bartender asks to pay now or open a tab.
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2 Answers 2

up vote 7 down vote accepted

To answer your question directly: both by and at are viable options for setting someone's location.

at would imply a very very close proximity to the bar (think, able to touch it)

by would imply proximity, but could just be the general vicinity of it

In this particular case, I would choose at since it's likely that they're physically quite close if they're talking to the bartender (barring yelling from several feet back).

However, there are a couple other things with your phrasing that bother me. I would likely word it:

When both of you are standing at the bar ordering a drink, and a bartender asks you to pay now or open a tab.

In particular

  • your use of the "you're" contraction seems alien here. I think it's because you isn't the subject, but rather the object of the preposition of.
  • the verb stand should be standing
  • I believe asks to pay now is incorrect (at the least, it sounds very odd). You could say asks if you want to pay now or asks you to pay now.
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please suggest how you would re-write it –  Anderson Silva Nov 12 '10 at 0:09
1  
@vehomzzz, he did: "When both of you are standing at the bar ordering a drink, and a bartender asks you to pay now or open a tab." –  Marthaª Nov 12 '10 at 0:21
    
The word “and” has to be removed (also in the original sentence), or the sentence is incomplete. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Nov 12 '10 at 11:01

In British use, "at the bar" is the invariable idiom for "standing near the bar being served or waiting to be served".

If you said "by the bar" it would suggest that you are physically near the bar, but not necessarily for service (maybe you have been served, and are standing or sitting there enjoying your drink).

I don't know whether or not this distinction is familiar in N America.

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Compare British "at school" = "present in the school as a pupil or just possibly a teacher, engaging in education" as opposed to "in the school" = "physically present in the school buildings for some unspecified reason. ("in school" hardly ever occurs). I'm pretty sure this distinction is absent in US English. –  Colin Fine Nov 12 '10 at 13:11
    
In the U.S., I would use "at the bar" for "sitting or standing near the bar being served, waiting to be served, or enjoying your drink". I would reserve "by the bar" for people who were standing near the bar but not drinking. –  Peter Shor Nov 10 '12 at 13:47

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